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date: 21 September 2020

Leontief, Wassilylocked

(05 August 1906–05 February 1999)
  • Ann T. Keene


Leontief, Wassily (05 August 1906–05 February 1999), economist, was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, the son of Wassily W. Leontief, an economics professor, and Eugenia Bekker Leontief. Young Wassily was a precocious child who managed to withstand the political turmoil surrounding his early years, as various radical groups attempted to end tsarist rule. In 1917, under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, revolutionaries succeeded in deposing the monarchy. Four years later, at the age of fifteen, Wassily Leontief entered the University of Saint Petersburg, now called the University of Leningrad to reflect the new name of his birthplace. There he studied economics and became something of a counterrevolutionary, as he joined with other students to protest restrictions of the Communist government on intellectual freedom, and he was jailed on several occasions. In 1925, after four years of study and the receipt of a master's degree, Leontief developed a tumor that was thought to be malignant. He was allowed to leave the country for treatment, and he emigrated to Berlin; his parents joined him there soon afterward. Leontief's medical condition proved benign, and he enrolled at the University of Berlin, where he completed his doctorate in economics in 1928. In 1927–1928 he was employed at the Institut für Weltwirtschaft (Institute for World Economics), a research institution at the University of Kiel, where he focused on supply‐and‐demand curves. In 1929, at the invitation of the Chinese government, he traveled to Nanking, China, and served as an economic adviser to the Chinese Ministry of Railroads. Leontief resumed his research at the University of Kiel the following year; then, in 1930, he emigrated to the United States. He was hired by the private, nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research, the preeminent organization in his field in the United States. In the New York City office of the National Bureau he began research on the American economy, then in the early stages of the Great Depression that would soon engulf the world....

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